Who Are The Most Charitable Jews?
Twenty-seven years ago, when I was searching to define my place in Orthodoxy, there was one raw fact that made it clear to me that charedi society is the ideal community. And I read it in The Jerusalem Post. I don't remember the exact numbers any more, but it was a statistic about charitable giving. It demonstrated that charedim give far more to charity than do national-religious Jews, who in turn give far more to charity than do secular Jews.
There you have it. A black-and-white statistic, in a non-charedi publication, showing that charedim are the most charitable Jews. Is this not clear evidence that theirs is the right path?
Eventually, over the years, I came to realize that there are many other issues to take into consideration. But in this post I would like to address this very statistic, which I recently saw quoted as praise for the charedi way of life. Because what many people don't realize is that it is a fundamental distortion.
Put very simply, the problem is that the larger amount of charity that charedim give is vastly offset by the lower amount of taxes that they pay and the higher amount of welfare that they draw.
As discussed in the anonymous guest post on this blog, Do Charedim Live Off The State?, the average charedi household pays only 34% of the income tax, national insurance and health insurance paid by the average non-charedi Jewish household. The average charedi household also spends 16% less on taxed goods and services, despite the much larger number of people living in it. And then the average charedi family receives 66% more in welfare and support payments than that received by the average non-charedi Jewish family.
It is abundantly clear that the charedi community’s relative contribution to Israel’s economy falls significantly behind that of its non-charedi Jewish counterpart. And when all is said and done, the average charedi household does receive considerably more funding from the state than it pays in taxes.
In other words, it doesn't help when people give more of their earnings to charity, if their earnings are incredibly meager and they are living off the state. (Not to mention that much of these charitable donations are going to supporting charedim who are willfully needy, rather than to those who cannot do anything about their situation.) Medical services and defense forces and welfare benefits and all the other things that the country needs to survive and help the unfortunate are not paid for by tzedakah donations; they are paid for by taxes.
Furthermore, all these essential services are run by people with professional careers - i.e., not by charedim. You need doctors and weapons experts and engineers and scientists, along with the money to pay for employing such professionals. Otherwise, you end up with a third-world country in which there is immense suffering - which is what economists warn that Israel is heading towards, and rare sensible figures in the charedi world are raising the alarm about. Remember, people in charedi kollels are not just making a personal lifestyle choice - they are also raising their children without any serious secular education or desire for professional careers.
What about the chareidi charitable contributions to society, in terms of chessed organizations? Charedi apologists like to boast about Hatzala, Zaka, Yad Sarah, Ezer Metzion, and Masbiya. These are indeed wonderful institutions. But it's a drop in the bucket compared to the contributions that non-charedim make to society, in terms of army service and sherut leumi. Army service is three years, plus annual reserve duty. And again, the most important contribution to society is to actually build up the economy.
Judaism teaches that it's not enough to have a good heart; one must have a good head, to ensure that one's good deeds are being done correctly. And it doesn't help to blind oneself to the problems that exist. Only if we are honest about the problems can we begin to address them.
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